Links to card pictures from that set should work finally, so here is the Battle for Zendikar addendum to my series.
As usual, an asterisk (*) denotes lands I want for my Limited Card Pool.
The lands with too many names
(I will not join the discussion what the nickname of that cycle should be, at least not here and now.)
They are not a full cycle yet, but it seems very likely that the missing cross members will appear in Oath of the Gatewatch. Their power level is fine, but I’d prefer the Clifftop Retreat cycle due to its ties to specific colors even if the basic land types weren’t a taboo for me.
The blighted cycle
I hate it when WotC introduce a promising cycle and then ruin it with unusable members. Cataract, Fen, and Gorge are perfectly fine, but Steppe is terrible, and Woodland actually does something I actively do not want (green manafixing), and also only makes sense in very specific environments. Only using parts of a cycle is something I do sometimes, but here it is really sad that the cycle isn’t complete. The Cataract will probably replace Tolaria West in my pool, since that is just a second-rate solution to the issue of Blue not having enough affiliated lands.
The spell land cycle
This is the third incarnation of such a cycle after Zendikar and Worldwake (I have a hunch there might be a fourth one in Oath of the Gatewatch), and if I wanted to construct my own cycle, I would now finally have enough material, with the Mire being actually good in contrast to its predecessors, and the Cascade providing an alternative for the blue member which has a more unique effect. However, the issue that those will be played off-color too often is obviously still there.
Here, it has officially been announced that this cycle will be completed with the next set, so one issue I had with it will disappear then. The members of this cycle being quite different from each other still bugs me, though – their main role in a cube would still be to provide manafixing, and I want this to be as uniform as possible. I might still use them, if it weren’t for their power level which is just too high – not so high that I COULD not use them, but so high that I do not WANT to. I have been second-guessing that decision a lot, because their design is very appealing, and I really love complete cycles of duallands, but in the end I know better – they are just too strong to play well.
Allies are one of two circle tribes which my pool supports (the other, obviously, being slivers), and the Encampment does a fine job here. The Sanctum does nothing useful for me: I consciously include very few spells with comverted mana cost of more than 6 in my pool, because any draft environment where more than one (out of four) players could conceivably base his deck around ramping up that far is terrible. (I’m not going into detail here, but the baseline is that you either have no fast decks at all, or that the fast and the slow decks in that environment don’t interact much. And yes, that means that I anticipate I will not like Battle for Zendikar draft, just like I hated Rise of the Eldrazi draft.) Shrine is out for essentially the same reason – while I love that it always taps for mana unlike Temple of the False God, it is important that the ramp effect happens much earlier. The Bed is a variant of Foundry of the Consuls which once again only really makes sense if you want to ramp up super high, and also I will not use cards which produce scion tokens in general, because of that very reason.
An aside: Hangarback Walker
You know, I am very disappointed with Battle for Zendikar so far, just like a lot of people, but unlike most of those the reason is not that I consider that set to be too weak. For one thing, I do not really care for the constructed viability of cards a lot. Another reason, though, is that I just do not believe that it is possible for anyone who isn’t both really competent in Magic strategy (ruling out over 99% of all players) AND took the time to actually think about the potential of a card (ruling out at least 50% of the rest) to assess a card’s potential for constructed formats reliably, unless that card is really obviously overpowered, or obviously underpowered AND boring (underpowered, but strange cards have a habit of showing up unexpectedly in very specific roles in very unusual decks sometimes).
To illustrate my point, here are some highlights from snap evaluations of Hangarback Walker:
„Definitely not constructed playable“
„It’s too behind the curve. Obviously broken at X but it’s bad at XX.“
„it needs a lot of support to be good[…]Then again, a card that requires this much support for no real payoff is not where you want to be „
„What a bad card.“
„Fireball is outstanding in Limited because efficiency is less important there, but Constructed it’s bad because it’s bad value for any given value of X. This is kind of the same thing, except it’s XX so it’s even worse.“
„it’s one of those cards where a single X would be way too good, and double X makes it trash.“
„This card seems like it would be fine in limited.“
„Without Overseer, this is far too expensive.“
„If this shows up on any top 8 lists i’ll eat my hat.“
„It requires an onboard ravager to be any good.“
„I just can recognize a bad card.“
„This is the shizz“
You might want to keep that in mind!